‘Tis the season in our family to celebrate Día de los Muertos/Day of the Dead. Time to honor loved ones who have passed. Time to lay out a trail of marigold petals for the spirits to follow back home and to the altar. Time to create the altar with photos, foods, drink, and treasures. Our house fills with calaveras (skulls), even more than the usual.
A time to remember loved ones and the gift of their presence in our lives. Photos of Noé’s parents, both of our grandparents, and dear friends who have passed grace the altar. Noé tells stories of his parents, who raised five children while working as migrant farm workers throughout the U.S. “No matter where we were working,” Noé says, “and a lot of times we lived in abandoned barns or buildings, Mom always made a home for us.” His stories of his parents always seem to end in laughter. Never much one for Halloween, Dia de los Muertos is an integral beat in the rhythms and structures of our our family.
Last night Noé and I returned from one of the best Halloweens I can remember – an evening with dear friends, passing out candy to the little ones, and the night ended with us sitting around a fire pit under the stars, the guitars came out, and we sang old songs, including Silver Wings, which is forever intertwined with singing around campfires after funerals during the years of the Cascabel ranch. I still cannot hear without tears. A song especially appropriate on the eve of Dia de los Muertos. We came home and I made the dough for the traditional pan de muerto (bread of the dead), which needs to be refrigerated overnight. I use Frida Kahlo’s recipe:
This morning over coffee, I shaped the dough into the small round balls, with bones of dough criss-crossing the top. Wynn, as she has for the past decade plus, decorated the breads.
In this time to remember loved ones who have passed, artist, author, and dear friend Ashley Wolff created stunning images of her beloved dog, Tula, and other loved animals who had passed. Ashley writes, “This year my Dia de los Muertos altar will be packed with color and light to honor my beloved dead.”
We’ve received unseasonal rains in the past few weeks. I can hardly believe that I look outside to still see all flowers blooming. This rose just bloomed yesterday. This will go on this year’s altar.
The sweet scent of vanilla and cinnamon of the freshly baked pan de muerto fills the house. Wyatt looked forward to the annual pan de muerto every year. He was raised with these Dia los los Muertos traditions and rituals of our family. He’s off to college now. We were lucky enough to see our favorite university student when he came home for a rock -climbing competition in two weeks ago. After finishing this piece, I’m going to wrap up a few of the pan de muerto to send off to him in his dorm.
Dia de los muertos—a time to celebrate and cherish life.
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November 2, 2016 at 1:05 pm
Dear Dawn, Thank you for sharing your tradition with us. I love reading about your family and send hugs and love to your family.
November 4, 2015 at 2:36 am
Dear Dawn, thank you for keeping these traditions alive. The native customs and ceremonies are so soulful to me -from the zempoalli xochitl (20 flowers in Nahuatl) to the humorous calaveras literarias. I will make it my goal to learn the pan de muerto recipe by next year. My students added their own special touch to our altar at school!
November 5, 2015 at 2:27 am
Querida Ani, how beautiful that your students made an altar at school. Treasured time. I’d love to make the pan de muerto together in spirit next year. I shared some with my friends at work for the first time and they loved. And you’re such an incredible artist – I can only imagine the panecitos that you’ll create! I can’t wait to see! Abrazos y amistad, Dawn
November 2, 2015 at 6:55 pm
I loved reading your rendition of Dia de los Muertos, Dawn. I am the better for it having now learned more. And I absolutely loved that you included Frida’s recipe! I will definitely have to have a turn at making pan de muerto in the future. I have a passion for trying new recipes 🙂 Ashley’s addition to this piece made everything glow with color for me, and I thought about the photo of her altar — I hadn’t considered that I also have an “altar” of loved ones who have passed. In my “Sanctuary Room” I have photos on a bookcase of my husband and son who have gone too early, with dried flowers in a glass vase, displayed to watch over the smaller photos of those who arrived after and are now the lights of my life. I may have been celebrating Dia de los Muertos in my own way, after all?
November 5, 2015 at 2:25 am
Dear Alice, isn’t Frida’s recipe marvelous?! Oh, yes, please do make along with me. There are A LOT of eggs in this one – and I add extra vanilla – thus the yumminess. 🙂 I agree about Ashley’s art and altar. Your “Sanctuary Room,” I could feel it as I read all you wrote…yes, you have absolutely been celebrating and honoring in your own way. Much, much love, Dawn
November 2, 2015 at 4:58 am
Thank you Dawn, love that you included the recipe for the Bread of the Dead and pictures, and I always forget the marigold part and I remember now that I was going to plant them in a pot so I could bring them in and have them still blooming for this year!! Next year!! After Mass for All Saints Day in Faith I visited some very special people you know and now closing the day reading your Day of the Dead writing is the perfect finish to a perfect day! Love to all of you!
November 2, 2015 at 12:31 pm
Mary Kay, yes, we always plant marigolds in our garden for this time of the year. Next year we’ll plant together in solidarity. Yes, in a pot! That is a wonderful idea. I’ve always planted mine around the edge of the vegetable garden. No vegetable garden this year (next year’s summer project!) and I will remember this. How beautiful that you attended Mass for All Saint’s Day in Faith and spent the day with special people. So grateful that we ended the day together. Love to you!
November 2, 2015 at 2:03 am
Beautiful as always, dear Dawn.
Love to you and your family.
November 2, 2015 at 12:27 pm
Anja! I was just thinking about your yesterday. Thank you so very much for taking the time to connect. Wonderful, wonderful to hear from you.
Love to you and yours, as well,
November 1, 2015 at 11:40 pm
Reblogged this on Ashley Wolff and commented:
Knowing Dawn for the past year has strengthened my affection for the traditions and rituals of Southwestern culture. For a New England girl, I am strongly attracted to that desert light, color, and imagery.
Enjoy Dawn’s Dia de los Muertos post and I invite you to follow her blog.
November 2, 2015 at 12:26 pm
Dear Ashley, your art and altar bring Dia de los Muertos to life and convey the essence of honoring and love. So very beautiful. Thank you so very much for allowing me to share. Miss you! XOXO Dawn
November 1, 2015 at 10:12 pm
Indeed it is, whether you celebrate the Celtic Samhain or the Mexican Day of the Dead, it’s the quarter-hinge of the year, when those loved spirits are closer than at any other time. What a beautiful evocation of your celebration, Dawn! Ashley Wolff’s paintings are glorious, and those Pan de Muerto are charming–yum!
November 2, 2015 at 12:23 pm
Susan – I looked up more about the Celtic Samhain (pronounced ‘sow-wen,’ I learned) and love the coming together of these powerful traditions together. What beautiful energy to come together in the world. I am going to learn more about the Samhain. Ashley Wolff’s paintings are gorgeous, aren’t they?! I’d love for the two of you to meet one day. Somehow I know that this will happen. XOXO
November 1, 2015 at 10:10 pm
What a lovely tradition!! A time to connect spiritually with loved ones never to be forgotten….
November 2, 2015 at 12:20 pm
Micki – wonderful to connect with you on this tradition! I wish I could bring you some pan de muerto right now and we could enjoy together. Yes, loved ones never to be forgotten… Love you.